Communities and Climate Adaptation in a Post-Katrina World: Are We Prepared? By Martin Chavez, Executive Director, ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA and former Mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico
Of all the lessons and reminders that have followed Hurricane Katrina, the need for better natural disaster preparation is the most obvious. Katrina has even redefined what we mean by preparation: not just organizing better emergency response or building taller levees, but developing long-term holistic strategies to increase resilience to a range of threats and natural disasters – many of which may be exacerbated by climate change.
Katrina is a wake-up call for cities, towns, and counties across the country: You may not be within striking distance of a Category 5 hurricane, but you will be impacted by climate change, and you must begin to prepare. Climate adaptation must address the changes that are already being documented by scientists around the country and are predicted to worsen in coming decades: more heat waves in the Midwest, drought in the Southeast, wildfires and water shortages in the Southwest, and rising sea levels on the East Coast, to name a few. (For further details by region, see the 2009 Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States report.)
Climate scientists tell us that in a warming world, disasters will happen both quickly and in slow motion. For example, Miami, just like New Orleans, faces the threat of more powerful hurricanes generated by warmer oceans. But the entire South Florida region must also deal with slowly rising sea levels, which threaten to swallow coastal property, accelerate beach erosion, and contaminate underground aquifers – which supply drinking water to millions – with saltwater. These threats cannot be ignored: Proactive planning is critical, not to mention incredibly cost-effective (another obvious Katrina take-home); today’s choices will shape tomorrow’s vulnerabilities.
Defining Climate Adaptation
Most local governments that are addressing climate change have focused on climate mitigation, or reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). But even if all emissions could be halted tomorrow, we’d still face rising temperatures in the coming decades due to the GHGs we’ve already emitted. In other words, climate adaptation efforts must become as important as mitigation at all levels of government, but especially local governments, which are on the front lines of responding to any disaster or threat.
Climate adaptation is centered on initiatives that reduce a community’s vulnerability to actual or expected climate change impacts. The initiatives chosen depend on local and regional circumstances. Some communities may focus on building sea walls to protect coastal assets; others may prepare their infrastructure for more severe floods or their community members for droughts and heat waves.
How Can Communities Prepare?
Strong climate adaptation efforts are already taking shape in a handful of leading cities and counties, such as Miami Dade County, Fla., Chicago, Ill., New York, NY, Keene, NH, Homer, Alaska, and others. My organization, ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA – the leading membership organization of cities and counties committed to climate protection and sustainability – is working to share their lessons learned and to develop a national program called Climate Resilient Communities (CRC) that establishes the best practices for local climate adaptation. The CRC Program will launch in fall 2010, but some of the basic principles of the program are already in place.
Proactive planning can be undertaken with a five-step process:
• Conduct a climate resiliency study
• Set preparedness goals
• Develop a preparedness plan
• Implement a preparedness plan
• Measure progress, evaluate, and repeat the cycle
Most local governments are still navigating the first milestone in this process, working to identify their risks and vulnerabilities. But others, such as Chicago, have already integrated adaptation strategies into their climate action plans. Planners have discovered that mitigation and adaptation are not mutually exclusive: Some of the same measures to lower greenhouse gas emissions also enhance community resiliency. For example, increasing local renewable energy from various sources – solar, wind, geothermal, biogas – reduces the vulnerability from widespread power grid outages. Planting more trees on city streets helps cool buildings, which require less electricity; urban forestry also lessens the urban heat island effect and reduces storm water runoff during major rainstorms.
Leading Adaptation Efforts
Around the country, adaptation progress is happening at the local, regional, state, and federal levels. For example, Miami Dade County is integrating adaptation measures into its forthcoming community sustainability plan. In the San Diego Bay region, coastal cities and the Port of San Diego are developing a sea level rise adaptation strategy. The entire state of California released a draft adaptation strategy in 2009, and in October 2010, the White House Council on Environmental Quality is expected to release an update on progress to create a national adaptation strategy.
These efforts are encouraging, but far more work remains, and countless communities have not even considered the climate impacts they face. As we look back on the tragedy of Katrina and its aftermath, we must use it as an opportunity and a motivator to begin serious dialogues on climate adaptation.
To learn more about the innovations of sustainable cities and counties, read ICLEI USA’s Planet Earth magazine.About ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA
With over 600 members nationwide, ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA is the leading local government association addressing climate protection, clean energy and sustainability. As a non-profit membership organization, ICLEI USA provides the expertise, technical support, training and innovative tools to help local governments achieve their sustainability goals. More information at www.icleiusa.org.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Communities and Climate Adaptation in a Post-Katrina World: Are We Prepared?
National sustainable communitarian communities adaptation strategy coming next month!